It’s all in the family

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With Miguel’s at 40 years and still going strong, the Garcia restaurant legacy is alive and well thanks to brothers Gabe and Daniel

By Ned Steele

The privileges – and perils – of being raised on the inside of a family business can nudge the grown-up child either way: all the way in, or far, far away. It can easily take either turn.
Consider the case of Miguel’s, the French fine-dining spot that’s been a mainstay on Midnight Pass Road for 40 years.

Miguel and Betty Garcia, the founders who also originally ran the Surfrider restaurant right on the Gulf of Mexico where Stickney Point Road intersects with Midnight Pass Road, had an easy recipe for imposing discipline when their two young boys, Gabriel and Daniel, got into mischief: the young men were sentenced to kitchen duty washing the night’s dishes.
The punishment cured the misbehaviors, but miraculously did not scare the lads from the scene. Fortunately for the family, and for generations of Siesta Key patrons, Miguel and Betty also let their sons experiment in the kitchen. They gravitated at first to baking bread, and gradually were drawn in.
Fast-forward a few decades, and Miguel’s still delights diners with its superb continental cuisine – and with Gabriel and Daniel now at the helm.
“I didn’t want them to be in the business. It’s very hard,” dad Miguel recalls. “Be a lawyer or a doctor. But fine, whatever makes you happy.”
What made – and makes – Gabriel and Daniel happy is to greet their guests graciously in a warm, comfortable, traditional atmosphere and serve them classically oriented cuisine. Walking into Miguel’s is like walking into a generations-old bistro in Europe, where the host greets you by name and knows what you want for dinner before you do.

Today dad Miguel says of his boys, “I am very proud of them.” (A third son, Miguel, is a Siesta Key fire chief and dad is proud of him, too.)
The lines of responsibility inside Miguel’s are clear: Daniel works the front of the house, and Gabriel is the chef. A graduate of Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales University culinary school (“Dad discouraged me but I was adamant”), Gabriel interned for a while in a restaurant in Spain and then showed up back at dad’s door, whisk in hand. It was September 2002.
“I was 22, ambitious and naïve,” Gabriel recalls. “I had a hundred ideas. Some were good, some didn’t work.”
Enough of them did for dad to start stepping back and ultimately retire, leaving his legacy in capable hands. Classic French cuisine is just that – enduring. All the mouth-watering standards are on the Miguel’s menu: from coquilles St. Jacques and escargot to onion soup, canard a l’orange and chateaubriand. But the second-generation Garcia boys have adapted to meet changing tastes: more tableside salads, gulf coast seafood with a continental twist. All served up in a dining room that evokes the days when going out to dinner was a special occasion. And all without the premium price tag often associated with French fare; the prices are in line with Key norms. Since the pandemic, they have added takeout with online ordering.
(And how did dad Miguel, born and raised in Spain, come to create a French restaurant in the first place? As an adult he lived in France and French Canada, where he learned and excelled in the trade. Eventually, life and sunshine brought him to Siesta Key.)
It’s a formula for ongoing success. Miguel’s is regularly singled out in “Best Of” features, with its extensive early bird menu praised frequently. The secret to that success? Gabriel thinks he knows, and it’s not just the fine fare the kitchen turns out nightly:
“With all the competition from corporate restaurants, people are still looking for a niche mom and pop place. They want a waiter who knows them.”
That, and a nice plate of sole meuniere or steak frites, will do the job every time, as it has for the 40 years since Miguel and Betty opened the place.
The classics endure.

Ned Steele
Author: Ned Steele

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